9 Beautiful House Plants That Are Really Hard To Kill

PlantsToKill_slide-04Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
What might your office or apartment have in common with a NASA spaceship? Unfortunately the answer may be poor air quality. Indoor air pollutants have been ranked among the top five environmental risks to public health: Stagnant indoor environments allow pollutants to build up and stick around in greater amounts than we humans should be breathing in. Living and working in places rife with air contaminants and lacking decent ventilation can cause sick building syndrome , which can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and eye, ear, and nose irritation. Lucky for us, NASA scientists have been working to understand this problem and find solutions. Their space-age solution was an easy one that anyone can use: Use houseplants to clean the air.
Advertisement
What’s The Deal?
Given that people spend more than 90% of their time indoors, air quality matters. Furnishings, upholstery, synthetic building materials, and cleaning products in homes and offices can emit a variety of toxic compounds, like formaldehyde. Indoor air pollution can also be caused by pollen, bacteria, and molds, as outdoor air contaminants like car exhaust finds its way into buildings. All of these are made worse in small or poorly-ventilated spaces (like maybe your apartment with that window that you accidentally painted shut last year).
The good news is that there’s an easy and affordable way to combat the presence of the yucky stuff we may be breathing in, and it comes right from the natural world. Plants purify air, making them part of what NASA calls nature’s life support system . Adding potted plants to a room has been shown to reduce the amount of air particulates (although plants in bloom may be contributing their own compounds to the air).
So, how do houseplants clean the air? Plants absorb some of the particulates from the air at the same time that they take in carbon dioxide, which is then processed into oxygen through photosynthesis. But, that’s not all — microorganisms associated with the plants are present in the potting soil, and these microbes are also responsible for much of the cleaning effect.
Beyond air quality, plants just make people feel better. For example, hospital patients with plants in their rooms were more positive and had lower blood pressure and stress levels. Similarly, indoor plants may make people smarter by allowing them to stay alert and by reducing mental fatigue.
Advertisement
Your Action Plan
Although houseplants may be intimidating to those with a black thumb or fear of commitment, it turns out that many plants are easy to care for — so easy, in fact, you'd have to try pretty hard to kill them. Below, we've pulled together a list of nine virtually-indestructible plants inspired by NASA’s research.
Each kind of plant has its own favorite environmental conditions, so look for a tag that comes with the plant or online to find out how much sunlight and water it will need. If your plant doesn’t come in a pretty pot, or if it outgrew its previous one, you can easily repot it. Just find a pot that’s at least one inch larger than the previous container, add potting soil to the bottom, and place the plant so that the top of the soil remains at the same level as before. Finally, carefully pack potting soil around the edges of the plant and water it. Voilà!
PlantsToKill_slide-01Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Garden Mum
In the NASA research, this plant was an air-purifying champion, removing ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene from indoor air. Popular and inexpensive at garden stores, they can be planted outside after they're finished blooming.
Pollutants removed: ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene.
Advertisement
Spider Plant
Spider plants are among the easiest houseplants to grow, making them a great choice for beginners or forgetful owners. A fan of bright, indirect sunlight, spider plants will send out shoots with flowers that eventually grow into baby spider plants or spiderettes.
Pollutants removed: formaldehyde and xylene.
Dracaena
There are more than 40 different kinds of Dracaena plants, making it easy to find one that’s a perfect fit for your home or office. They're common foliage plants with long, wide leaves that are often variegated with lines of white, cream, or red. Pet owners might want to select a different plant, however, as these may be toxic to cats and dogs.
Pollutants removed: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene.
PlantsToKill_slide-03Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Advertisement
Boston Fern
These plants prefer to clean the air from a cool location with high humidity and indirect light. They're relatively easy to grow, but they do need to stay moist. Check the Boston fern’s soil daily to see if it needs water, and give it a good soak once per month.
Pollutants removed: formaldehyde and xylene.
Ficus/Weeping Fig
Though the ficus is a tree in its native home of southeast Asia, when it grows indoors, it's a hardy plant that ends up being between two and 10 feet tall. So, why not get figgy with it? Grow this low-maintenance houseplant in bright, indirect light and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Although this plant has some serious air-cleaning abilities, it can also be taken outside in late spring and brought back indoors when temperatures are warm and well above freezing.
Pollutants removed: benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
Peace Lily
Peace lily plants are relatively small compared to many of the plants on this list, but they still pack some major air-cleaning abilities. Easy to grow, these plants will flower for much of the summer. Just be aware that those flowers (like all flowers) do contribute some pollen and floral scents to the air, so you may want to avoid having a room full of them. Put peace lilies in a shady spot, and keep the soil moist without overwatering.
Pollutants removed: ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
PlantsToKill_slide-02Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
This is one of the hardest houseplants to kill. Although it does need to be watered occasionally, it generally prefers drier conditions and some sun.
Pollutants removed: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene.
Advertisement
Bamboo Palm
A superstar of filtering formaldehyde, these palms thrive in full sun or bright light. Part of the reason they can filter so much air is that they can grow to be pretty big — as tall as four to twelve feet high, making them exciting (and pet-friendly) indoor additions.
Pollutants removed: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene.
Aloe Vera
In addition to being easy to care for, aloe makes some serious health claims. The plant's leaves contain a clear liquid full of vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and other compounds that have wound-healing, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, and there is some evidence that aloe may help (and is unlikely to hurt) skin conditions like psoriasis.
Pollutant removed: formaldehyde.